The following list of the best actresses of the 2010s was always going to be a subjective choice on my part. That said, I’ve taken into account a variety of factors and chosen the actresses I thought had the biggest influence throughout the decade. While critical acclaim or Oscar wins and other awards helped shape the following list, I’ve also taken into account things like box office success, the versatility of the roles actresses played, how consistently they worked throughout the decade and last but not least what cultural impact they had, if any.
But first while the likes of Meryl Streep, Francis McDermott, Judy Dench, and even Helen Mirren all proved they were still a force to be reckoned with, the 2010s was unfortunately never going to be their decade. Sure Meryl Streep has been consistently active during the decade but with one major Oscar win for The Iron Lady (2011) its a little unfair to think that the 2010s was her decade. After all she has run riot accumulating acclaim and awards all her working life.
Francis McDermott and Helen Merren also fall into that same category as Streep, as honest hard working women who turned in some respectable performances, but with one of the dominant narratives of the 2010s in my opinion being the emergence of a crop of brilliant young actresses, who went toe to toe with these great actresses, I honestly don’t see how they deserve top honours of being in the top 12 best actresses of the decade.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the best actresses of the decade from 8 to 5.
8. Rooney Mara.
Notable Performances: A Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011), Side Effects (2013), Carol (2015) and Mary Magdalene (2018).
Many of us still remember Rooney Mara’s kick ass introduction as Mark Zuckerberg’s (played by Jesse Eisenberg) girlfriend and how she ceremoniously puts him back in his place after breaking up with him. Mara as Erica Albright in that moment, illustrated why David Fincher, who directed The Social Network, had so much faith in Mara, when he next directed Rooney in her breakout role as Elizabeth Salander in A Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011). As a relative unknown actress, her amazing interpretation of Salander won her acclaim and an Oscar nomination, despite at the time Sony fighting hard against her casting by Fincher.
Next, coming off of Dragon Tattoo, she starred in a string of acclaimed films in 2013 beginning with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, followed by Side Effects and Her. The pick of the bunch was arguably Side Effects, a menacing noir psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh.
For the better part of the decade, a lot like Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara flew under the public radar, choosing screen roles simply on merit. The big difference though between Williams and herself I believe was that many of us actually got see these lesser projects Mara appeared in like Lion (2016), Song To Song (2017) and Mary Magdalene (2018). When you are also able to go toe to toe with a great actress like Cate Blanchett in Carol (2015) as her onscreen love interest and in the process pick up a second Academy Awards nomination for your efforts, I believe its fair to say Mara is deserving of being considered one of the best actresses of the decade. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, check out her emotionally exhausting performance as a grieving widow in A Ghost Story (2017) which is nothing short of brilliant.
7. Natalie Portman.
Notable Performances: Black Swan (2010), Jackie (2016), Annihilation (2018) and Vox Lux (2018).
Natalie Portman has long been one of my favourite actresses ever since the late 1990s. In her 25-year career (so far), she has starred in critically acclaimed dramas and blockbuster franchises (The Star Wars prequels and Marvel’s Thor), but more importantly in the decade of our focus here, Portman has captivated audiences with some fearless and sensitive choices as an actress and aspiring filmmaker (both as a director and producer).
However, there are some that argue that Portman has been far from influential as an actress in the 2010s. Sure she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her haunting performance as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronfsky’s Black Swan (2010), and even earned herself an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win for her intelligent and poised performance as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie (2016); but other than that what has she really done that sees her so highly position (even ahead of Cate Blanchett) as one of the decades best actresses?
To answer that question we need not look no further than her directorial debut in A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015), Terrence Malick’s Song to Song (2017), Annihilation(2018), or even Vox Lux (2018) with Portman playing a mass shooting survivor who becomes a messed-up mother and star; as all rare examples of Portman’s ability to inhabit the characters that she plays. With the horror sci-fi Annihilation arguably the pick of the litter, which sees Portman play a biologist sent on a mission to investigate a disturbing phenomenon inside a mysterious zone called “the shimmer”, it’s the type of emotionally terrifying role that we hope she continues to pursue in the years to come.
6. Brie Larson.
Notable Performance: Short Term 12 (2013), Room (2015), The Glass Castle (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019).
There was a time when Larson, a successful television actress, who made the leap to become a big screen actress, was simply content plying her trade in independent films without fuss or quibble. I’m speaking of course about films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Short Term 12 (2013) and even Trainwreck, as Amy Schumer’s sister, Kim Townsend, in 2015’s romantic comedy hit. But things changed soon after Trainwreck when Larson’s next project Room (2015) attracted her unprecedented attention and deservedly so.
Audiences and critics alike were absolutely stunned by her riveting performance as a young woman held prisoner in a garden shed for seven years in the bleak drama Room. It’s fair to say Larson had truly arrived as someone we should all be paying attention to. And just when things couldn’t get any better, in 2016, up against a stellar field of leading lady nominees, which included Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan, Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for performance for Room (2015).
Following on from her Oscar win, Larson was touted as ‘the next Jennifer Lawrence’. But as flattering as the comparison was, Larson was humble enough on just being her own woman. With success came a variety of role opportunities, including her first big-budget film Kong: Skull Island (2017). Importantly, she also continued to work on independent projects, such as the drama The Glass Castle (2017) and the coming-of-age comedy Unicorn Store (2017).
In recent years, Larson has also become a champion of gender equality, inclusivity and women’s rights within her industry. Not only has her involvement in activism off screen helped propel change but it has also helped knock down doors and stereotypes onscreen. As Captain Marvel (2019), the second major Hollywood movie to feature a female-led superhero, Larson put in a game-changing performance, worthy of anything her male counterpart has to offer.
5. Jennifer Lawrence.
Notable Performances: Silver Lining Playbook (2012), Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), American Hustle (2013), Joy (2015), Mother! (2017) and Red Sparrow (2018).
There is no ceiling on what Jennifer Lawrence can hope to achieve next. She is one of the best actresses going around nowadays who has successfully balanced a career with leading roles in dramas and huge blockbusters. Interestingly, at the midway point of 2010s she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood thanks to her final Hunger Games instalment.
When identifying some of Lawrence’s finest performances of the decade, the best place to start is Winter’s Bone, which was incidentally my first introduction to her. It’s probably safe to say, as a relatively unknown actress (at that point), Lawrence’s breakout role as a head-strong young woman fighting to save her Ozarks Mountain home, while at the same time in search of her missing father, launched her career. Looking back now, it was a dream role that garnered Lawrence her first Oscar nomination, setting the stage for an incredible run of commercially challenging roles with both the X-Men series as Mystique and Kathniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies. The latter in particular gave fans of the young adult dystopian book trilogy, a strong relatable heroine to truly cheer for onscreen, ahead of the superhero women that would come to dominate the box office in the late 2010s, notably Wonder Woman (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019).
Whilst we could easily talk all day about Lawrence as Mystique or Kathniss, it is her acting prowess several steps away from her blockbuster roles in films like Silver Lining Playbook, American Hustle and Joy that cemented her place as one of the decades best actresses. Her stunning performance in 2012’s romantic comedy-drama Silver Lining Playbook in particular caught an entire industry by surprise, including her veteran co-star Robert De Niro, who was absolutely mesmerised by her energy. So good was her performance as Tiffany Maxwell, a grieving young widow with depression, that Lawrence walked away with an Oscar for Best Actress for her role.
Lawrence who is never one to rest on her laurels, rounded out the decade in controversy with performances in the nightmarish Mother! and the ‘skin-crawling’ violent and sexually-charged Russian spy thriller Red Sparrow. The latter in particular saw Lawrence for the first time consent to nudity onscreen, something that went against her better judgement, after being the victim of a 2014 nude-photo hack. But Red Sparrow’s script was too irresistible to pass on for the aspiring actress. “I realized there’s a difference between consent and not. I showed up for the first day and I did it and I felt empowered,” Lawrence said in 2018. “I feel like something that was taken from me, I got back…It’s my body, it’s my art, and it’s my choice. And if you don’t like boobs, you should not go see Red Sparrow.”
Check back soon for Part 3 when we countdown the best actresses of the decade from 4 to 1.